Growth slows as economy adds 115,000 jobs in April; unemployment rate at 8.1%

The nation's economy added 115,00 jobs in April while the unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a point to 8.1 percent, according to a report released Friday — the day before President Obama officially launches his campaign. 

The figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are lower than a month ago and were also below what many analysts had expected. Additionally, they show the nation's labor participation rate dropping to a 30-year low of 63.6 percent, suggesting workers continue to leave the labor force because due to dim job prospects. 

The dismal numbers add to the sense that the labor market is cooling down after months of stronger growth. They are unwelcome news for Obama, whose campaign launch includes rallies in Virginia and Ohio on Saturday. 

Obama's likely GOP rival, Mitt Romney, is hammering the president on the economy, which Romney sees as his best argument for reaching the White House. 

Obama on Friday gave a positive assessment of the figures, noting that the unemployment rate "ticked down again."

He also said in a speech in Virginia that "after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" businesses had created "more than 1 million jobs in the last six months alone."

Obama's campaign increasingly is seeking to highlight the economy Obama inherited in 2009 from President George W. Bush as it tries to make the case that Obama's policies are slowly but surely putting the nation on the right economic track.

Reacting to the report minutes after it was released, Romney blamed the slow growth on Obama and said the nation should be seeing growth of "500,000 jobs created per month."

"The reason that you’re seeing the unemployment rate go down is because you have more people dropping out of the workforce than you have getting jobs — it’s a terrible and very disappointing report this morning," Romney said on Fox.

Separately, in an op-ed published Friday in Cleveland's Plain Dealer, Romney agreed that Obama had inherited the recession but faulted the president for not fixing it in his three years on the job. 

While the key figures in the report were worrying, a bright spot is that job totals for March and February were revised upward. In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 259,000 jobs were created, up from the 240,000 initially forecast. And in March, the figure was revised up to 154,000.

The drop in workforce participation can be partly attributed to an increase in retirements as well as the expiration of unemployment insurance in nine states. Congress passed an extension of jobless benefits earlier this year but implemented tighter constraints on federal benefits, meaning they are expiring sooner in many states.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, told MSNBC the slower spring hiring is a “payback” for warm winter weather, which spiked hiring earlier this year.

“It's soft, it's disappointing, but not as soft as it looks,” Zandi said of the April report.

He expects that after more slow growth in May, job creation will pick back up to 175,000 to 200,000 during the summer months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) put the blame on Republicans for the pace of job growth.

“Unfortunately, Republicans are currently obstructing a number of common-sense, bipartisan policies that would create and protect millions of American jobs,” Reid said.

He criticized the House for not moving a transportation bill approved by the Senate as well as a postal reform bill.

“The House is sitting on bipartisan bills to save 3 million transportation jobs and modernize the postal industry,” he said.

“There is no reason why we should not pass these common-sense jobs bills without delay — no reason except for Republican obstruction.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), however, said the report confirms “several telltale warnings we’ve seen lately that the economy isn’t growing at the rate needed to get people back to work."

Cantor said that “threats of higher taxes and more regulations coming from Democrats in Washington are fueling uncertainty and holding back the small-businessmen and -women that create the majority of new jobs in this country.”

The report highlighted continued job growth in manufacturing. The sector, which grew at the fastest rate in 10 months in April, added 16,000 jobs last month. Since its most recent employment low in January 2010, manufacturing has added 489,000 jobs.

Temporary help services also edged up by 21,000, while employment grew by 7,000 in architectural and engineering services and by the same amount in computer systems design and related services.

The retail industry added 29,300, with general merchandise stores hiring 21,000 in April.

The number of long-term unemployed, those out of work for at least 27 weeks, was little changed at 5.1 million in April. These workers made up 41.3 percent of the unemployed. In the past year, the number of long-term unemployed has fallen by 759,000.

In April, 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, essentially unchanged from a year earlier. These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months.

They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.

Among the marginally attached, there were 968,000 discouraged workers in April, about the same as a year earlier.

Discouraged workers have stopped looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.4 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in April had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

— Posted at 8:33 a.m. and updated at 12:43 p.m.